By Robert McBride
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Extra resources for Aspects of Seventeenth-Century French Drama and Thought
What is of paramount interest to Oreste is the fresh situation into which this event places Pyrrhus and his fiancee Hermione: 'On dit que peu sensible aux charmes d'Hermione, 1 Moo rival porte ailleurs son coeur et sa couronne' (lines 77-8). 4 Pyrrhus' neglect of Hermione for Andromaque transforms the dejection of Oreste first into vengeful delight and then into renewed passion for Hermione. It is therefore he who offers himself as the Greek ambassador to Pyrrhus, indifferent to his mission to persuade the latter to give up Hector's son to the Greeks and inspired solely by the hope of gaining Hermione by consent or force.
In the light of his professed intention, do not his earlier words to Pauline seem blandly deceptive? The point has been put pertinently by R. '26 It cannot be doubted that there is a considerable discrepancy between the conciliatory remarks of Polyeucte about Severe to Pauline and the intransigent tone of the potential iconoclast several lines afterwards. But to infer that he is cynically deceiving Pauline in lying to her about his intentions in the temple is to forget that in the opening scenes of the play he had been at great pains to calm her fears for his life, and had shown himself loath to disregard them in front of Nearque.
The more he feels himself to be crushed and immobilized by the blows of fate, the greater his effort to assert himself against it. But what is really the underlying significance of the munificent pardon issued so unexpectedly by Auguste to the conspirators through which he asserts his presence against fate and his enemies? It has been suggested that nothing less than Auguste's religious conversion can account for his dramatic gesture. 21 Without excluding the sudden manifestation of divine grace in Auguste as in Polyeucte, it seems difficult to maintain this view with the dramatic evidence at our disposal.